The case of women refugees, especially mothers

On ‘World Refugee Day’ let us focus on the pain and suffering of refugee women rather than stoop to reviling them as people waiting to take your homes and your jobs. Being forced to leave your country and your home cannot be an easy decision to make.

Would you readily leave your support network, family, friends and your treasured personal belongings to make an extremely perilous journey in a rickety boat knowing full well that the lives of your children could be at stake? Yet, this is what refugees do all the time out of necessity but are vilified for for doing so. Instead, they are seen as ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘job grabbers’ and labelled with words such as ‘swarm’. 

Dr Elizabeth Snyder, with a background in ‘peace and conflict studies and gender and development’, has written about women refugees in an account that lays bare the suffering that ensues from being displaced. As a starting point, Dr Snyder writes that that women bear the brunt of all disasters. This commonsense approach, backed up by overwhelming evidence, opens the way for policy makers to address the subjective experiences of refugee women and for charities and aid agencies to provide targeted help and care. 

Women face risks that are unique to their gender. These risks are rape, being forced to be sex slaves and human trafficking. These risks arise as soon as the women are displaced and carries on for the entire time it takes for the women to be resettled or till she is sent back to her country of origin. When the Western world speaks of refugees it assumes that they are a homogeneous group and that the problem ends as soon as the paperwork is done on whether to grant them country status or repatriate them. 

The concept of gendered protection for refugee women, according to Dr Snyder, proposes that protection regimes must do more than guarantee a woman’s physical protection. Reframing the refugee support system requires a comprehensive focus on women’s rights, women’s empowerment and their full participation in the policies and practices that affect their lives. Feminism furthers the calls for examining the dilemma of women refugees by advocating for a more nuanced analysis This analysis ought to take into account the diversity among refugee women because they are not a uniform category. Displaced women represent different ethnic, linguistic, political, economic and religious affiliations. 

Refugee women are not a uniform category. 

Empowering refugee women and creating opportunities for their active participation in decision making, impelementation and assessment are key areas for improvement. Dr Snyder refers to this approach as being ‘help to self-help’. Women’s involvement in their own protection and well-being signals an important shift from viewing displaced persons as victims to emphasizing their resilience, determination and capacity.  

If anything good is to come out of today, World Refugee Day, it should be that the Western world stops asking the inane question of refugees: “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” If your home, neighborhood and country resembled the photo below then there is no home to go back to is there? 


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